Police officer – 18 year veteran – fired for flipping off group of Black Lives Matter protesters

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CLEVELAND, OH – A Shaker Heights police officer is now out of a job. The officer was accused of making an obscene gesture toward protestors on September 29.

An announcement came on October 15 that a decision was made to relieve the officer of duty, effective immediately.

Corporal Michael Spuzzillo was working special detail for the Presidential Debate which took place on September 29.

He was alleged to have held his middle finger up at a group of Black Lives Matter protestors as he drove past them. The action was caught on tape and the incident quickly went viral on various news and social media outlets.

Spuzzillo was an 18-year veteran of the SHPD and was selected to be part of a group of local law enforcement hired to provide security outside the event.

An internal investigation was held to look into the allegations. This allows an officer due process rights, such as the opportunity to appear in a pre-disciplinary hearing and the right to appeal decisions made.

The pre-disciplinary hearing was held on October 14, and the next day, the decision to relieve Corporal Spuzzillo of duty was made.

The City of Shaker Heights Mayor David E. Weiss made it clear that keeping peaceful relations with the protestors was of great importance, as was displayed in a letter in which he made the termination announcement the following day.

In the letter Mayor Weiss released to the public, he said:

“The City of Shaker Heights and the Shaker Heights Police Department moved promptly and decisively because we consider this incident a very serious matter. The behavior of this officer violates all that the SHPD stands for including our unwavering commitment to preserving the rights of Black Lives Matter and all demonstrators to peacefully protest.

“I know I speak for City Council, Police Chief DeMuth and the many dedicated Shaker Heights police officers when I say that we condemn, in the strongest way possible, any action by a police officer that interferes with or disrespects the rights of citizens to demonstrate peacefully.”

Mayor Weiss acknowledged that the incident with the officer damaged the work that the Shaker Heights Police Department and the city have put forth to establish a relationship of trust between residents, protestors and law enforcement.

The mayor went on to say:

“I hope that our actions in this case demonstrate our resolute commitment to treating and protecting all residents of Shaker Heights with dignity and respect, and in a just, fair, equal and professional manner.”

Dominic Saturday, attorney for the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, made clear his views on the treatment and termination of the officer.

Saturday released a letter regarding the city’s letter and stated:

“It’s a lopsided piece of political commentary, purposely written to mislead the media and the public.”

Saturday was not only unhappy with the decision to terminate, but also with another allegation made against Spuzzillo which was later dismissed.

The officer was accused of being purposely intoxicated before his disciplinary interview for the incident.

Shaker Heights Police Chief Jeffrey DeMuth signed a letter that pointed out the reasons for which the city decided to terminate Spuzzillo following the gesture incident.

In the letter, DeMuth wrote:

“At the onset, this letter will confirm that based on our discussions during the pre-disciplinary hearing, the following allegation of violation has been removed from my consideration.

“You, Corporal Michael Spuzzillo, purposely consumed alcohol as to make yourself unavailable to submit a statement.”

Attorney Saturday made clear his feelings about the mention of the alcohol allegation:

“The Department knew this was a bogus allegation but decided to include it anyways-presumably to influence the public’s perception of the officer.” 

Attempts to reach Chief DeMuth for comment went unanswered.

The Union has filed a grievance with the city, giving the city 15 days to overrule Chief DeMuth’s decision.

Attorney Saturday wrote:

“If [Mayor Weiss] doesn’t, the City and OPBA will present the case to a neutral party who could overrule the Mayor and return Spuzzillo to work with pay and benefits.”

 

By: Lynn Vance

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Former officer fired two years ago for suspect shooting now faces murder charges three years later

October 10, 2020

 
PHILADELPHIA, PA  A former police officer who was involved in the controversial shooting of an unarmed man in December 2017 is now facing murder charges in relation to that shooting.

The investigation into the shooting was delayed in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and nearly three years after the incident, a grand jury has returned an indictment.

Here are the details of the case.

The shooting of Dennis Plowden Jr., 25, has been a point of controversy since it occurred on Dec. 27, 2017.

Plowden was driving a 2013 Hyundai when plainclothes officers spotted the vehicle and noted that it matched the description of a vehicle said to be involved in a homicide.

Plowden was alleged to have briefly stopped his car, then fled from the plainclothes officers when they attempted to conduct the stop based on the patrol alert.

A high-speed chase ensued, during which Plowden struck an unmarked police vehicle and three parked cars, spun and finally came to a stop after crashing into a pole.  

Authorities noted that Plowden’s vehicle had suffered “extensive damage” from the crashes. Plowden had exited his vehicle and was discovered by then-Officer Eric Ruch while the apparently dazed Plowden was sitting down on a sidewalk.

According to District Attorney Larry Krasner, moments after Ruch encountered Plowden, the officer fired one fatal shot that traveled through Plowden’s extended left hand and into his head. His right arm was behind him.

Krasner stated:

“Within six to eight seconds of arriving on the scene, former officer Ruch Jr. shot Plowden once, the bullet passing through his raised left hand, wounding three fingers and traveling directly into his head.”

In 2018, 10 months after the shooting, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross opted to fire Ruch – citing Ruch for exercising “poor judgement” for immediately shooting Plowden while he “was likely dazed and disoriented” following the car accident and airbag deployment and “seated on the curb.”

Commissioner Ross also made mention during Ruch’s October 2018 termination that the other officers had taken advantage of the car accident scene to establish cover, when Ruch opted to immediately engage the suspect.

Ross said:

“The officer should have taken advantage of cover and concealment as his other three officers did. This would have afforded him the opportunity to de-escalate the situation where time was on his side.”

It was when the termination was announced that the D.A.’s office noted that it would be taking a look into the case for possible criminal culpability.

Two years after Ruch’s dismissal from the force, he’s now facing four charges related to the killing of Plowden.

The charges are as follows: first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime.

When the case was presented to the grand jury this month, they returned the following after reviewing the evidence:

“Ruch intentionally fired on Dennis Plowden less than 20 seconds after the Hyundai he had been driving crashed at nearly 80 miles an hour, Mr. Plowden had fallen to the ground, and yet was still attempting to obey commands.”

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said the three-year delay in bringing charges was due in part to the incident happening during the term of the previous DA and the COVID-19 pandemic impeding the process of convening a grand jury.

The president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, John McNesby, didn’t comment on case specifics but simply noted that the FOP will be affording legal services for Ruch’s defense:

“We will represent former police officer Eric Ruch Jr. against these serious charges. Our attorneys will review the allegations and appropriately defend this officer. Officer Ruch Jr. is entitled to due process, and we believe the judicial system will protect his rights to a fair trial.”

It should be noted that neither the FOP Lodge 5 nor John McNesby’s Twitter accounts have mentioned anything about the case following Ruch’s arrest  Oct. 9 or that there’s any possibility that the charges are frivolous.

Sometimes silence is louder than words – and the silence here might betray that even the local FOP lodge might not have that much confidence in Ruch’s defense.

Plowden is survived by his wife, Tania Bond, two children and three stepchildren. The youngest of his kids, who recently turned three years old, was an infant at the time of his killing.

Plowden’s widow said she’s pleased to see charges brought against Ruch:

“I am happy that Ruch was charged with the murder of Dennis . . . this is only the beginning. There are so many more milestones before we reach the end.”

No details have been released as of yet regarding next steps within the court process, specifically matters such as future court appearances.

Please follow us at Law Enforcement Today to receive updates as this case works through the court system.

 

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